The story behind a local clothing startup goes beyond the Richmond fashion scene.
While volunteering on a World Pediatric Project trip to Belize two years ago, 32-year-old Richmond family therapist Alden Ramsey met Ana Vasquez. Vasquez is a seamstress and single mother to a daughter with a serious medical condition.
Ramsey saw an opportunity to help Vasquez and build on a business idea she and longtime friend Meg Marchant had tossed around. Ramsey hired Vasquez to sew the first pieces for Alden Skirts, a company that sells skirts online and in two Richmond boutiques.
World Pediatric Project is a Richmond-based nonprofit that provides medical care to critically ill children in developing countries in the Caribbean and Central America.
One of Vasquez’s two daughters has spina bifida – a condition in which the spine does not completely cover the spinal cord – and is a longtime World Pediatric Project patient.
Vasquez had trouble keeping a job because she needed so much time off to care for her daughter, who uses a wheelchair.
“I’m an entrepreneur,” Ramsey said. “(Vasquez) needed somebody who believed in her and could give her flexible hours.”
Vasquez has made about 300 skirts since Alden Skirts was founded about six months ago, and the company has sold around half of them, Ramsey said.
“Once we tell our story, it spreads,” she said.
The skirts retail for $89 each and come in sizes 0 to 12 and two different lengths. Twenty percent of sales go to World Pediatric Project. The skirts are sold online, at trunk sales and in two local boutiques: Nellie George on Grove Avenue and Wardrobe on Libbie Avenue.
Vasquez can finish a skirt in less than two hours, and what she makes from sewing 10 skirts pays a month’s rent for her two-room home, Ramsey said. The skirts are then shipped to Richmond.
Ramsey said the company isn’t turning a profit yet, but it’s getting close to breaking even. She and Marchant, a Richmond native who now lives in New York, haven’t taken a paycheck. Ramsey said she has invested $8,000 of her personal savings into the business.
“Our goal right now is to keep Ana employed and run with the theme of helping single mothers and their children,” she said.
Vasquez has finished every order on time, Ramsey said. Once the skirts arrive in Richmond, Ramsey delivers or ships them to their final destination. For now, she and Marchant are handling all of the non-sewing aspects of the business.
Ramsey’s long-term goal is to grow the company enough so it can employ more single moms in Belize and possibly other countries in the region. Ramsey said she hopes she and Marchant can continue to grow the brand and expand into stores all over the world.
“If you think of a therapeutic sewing circle for women, that’s where my head was going with this plan,” she said.
World Pediatric Project CEO Susan Rickman said she admires Ramsey’s effort to create a new way to give back one of the countries the organization serves.
“(Ramsey) could so easily just send (Vasquez) money every month, but she didn’t,” Rickman said. “(Vasquez) is a woman with phenomenal skills, and she’s able to get to work.”
Vasquez’s daughter has been a World Pediatric Project patient for years. She came to Richmond once for surgery and gets checkups in Belize several times a year.
“Most of our spina bifida kids in these countries die. They just die,” Rickman said. “There are just too many complexities for their parents to care for them, even if they get surgery.”
Ramsey said Vasquez is thinking of buying a new house, and her daughter is learning to help with the family business. Ramsey said the girl, 15, was walking with braces the last time she saw her.
According to Guidestar, World Pediatric Project reported total revenues of about $6.6 million and total expenses of $6.45 million to the IRS for the 2012 fiscal year.